Thursday, August 20, 2009

Learning to Teach

Thanks for getting us started, Susie.

One of the luckiest days of my beginning teaching was to be placed in an open space classroom with five other teachers. I know, I know, no one likes this set-up and all open space classrooms have been walled up. But for me it was liberating, interesting, fun and oh so full of learning. I watched pros in action and watched beginners struggle. I struggled, the pros struggled--although much less than I did and I gained more knowledge about teaching than I ever thought possible. We discussed our lessons and why they worked or did not, fed off each others' ideas, and supported each other through a miserable time with a leader who could not lead, did not lead, and was more than a bubble off-center (think of a level).

Susie's discussion about learning to teach made me realize how very fortunate I was. And besides that, three of those teachers who taught me to teach are still friends after 37 years!!


  1. Wow Lani! I think this type of atmosphere would definitely address so many of the issues Newkirk raises. Forget isolation! :-) Opportunities to collaborate, watch your peers, receive feedback - wow. I went to an elementary school with "partial walls," but the teachers never worked together. It was just loud. ;-> I am wondering.......... how did things change for you over the years? It sounds like such a great beginning.... how did you feel about teaching as changes happened in education?

  2. i learn more through my failures. it seems like the open space structure wouldn't offer me the same false sense of security as a self contained classroom would, and therefore would challenge me to be more reflective about teaching.

    an open space structure sounds like an environment that would be conducive to building more collaboration among teachers. on the other hand, i am a control freak. i shy away from noisy classroom spaces even with the noise is constructive, so i don't think i could be as productive if the atmosphere were as susie puts it, "loud".

  3. I agree that we do not get enough opportunities to see teachers work in the classroom. I was fortunate to have an excellent master teacher that I still correspond with periodically. When I taught fifth grade, we built a model math lesson together and observed each teacher delivering it to his or her students. After each round, we went back and made modifications and comments about what we should keep and change. While that took some substitute coverage, it was a valuable day that helped us solidify a good lesson. It would be nice to be able to have that model, adding new lessons to it as we go along. It was also reassuring to see other teachers actually teaching.

    I tell my students all the time that if they already knew what we were learning, we would not need to learn it. Society places a huge stigma on failure, yet getting something wrong is a learning opportunity. Our students need to understand that it is okay to get something wrong, as long as they have the opportunity and ability to correct it. As teachers, we need to give them the chance to make these corrections and measure that growth in our evaluation.

  4. In response to Mr. Wren; I used to give points (on the board inside a heart or whatever hit my fancy at the time for all kinds of things--kind words, helping another child, smiling.......), but the one I was most proud of and which worked the best was recognition for trying and failing (or succeeding). We had everyone trying in my classroom and we got wonderful answers when all answers were recognized. As the year went on, kids were completely comfortable in trying out all kinds of weird and not so weird ways of learning. My students always astounded me with what they learned and how they learned it if I could make it their responsibility.

    I think the testing atmosphere now would stifle this kind of exploration and excitement. Am I right?